34 miles from the center of Italy, our facilities are housed in a complex of historic buildings within the walls of the well-preserved Umbrian hill town of Monte Castello di Vibio, a safe and friendly place with a mild climate and spectacular views. Its central location provides ready access to major centers such as Florence or Rome and a whole range of smaller cities including Assisi, where St. Francis lived and where Giotto’s work foreshadowed the Renaissance; fashionable Tuscan Arezzo with its masterworks by painter Piero della Francesa; nearby cities of Perugia and Spoleto, each with world-famous music festivals; the jewel-like striped cathedrals and masterful sculptures of Orvieto and its Tuscan counterpart Siena; and neighboring Todi.
Perched on its little mountaintop, Monte Castello is home to about 300 residents, most of whom are descended from generations of Montecastelesi. These local people are directly involved in the day-to-day functioning of the school. The surrounding landscape is quilted with vineyards, olive groves and sunflower fields, and stitched in with rows of cypresses and umbrella pines. It is one of the richest areas of farmland in the country, hence Umbria’s designation as the “green heart of Italy.” The rich and bountiful harvest from these farms yields equally rich traditions in cooking, olive oil production, and wine and cheese making. Our program participants directly benefit from the bounty of this countryside, with traditional Umbrian meals prepared each day by our cook with fresh, locally grown ingredients.
Monte Castello is not a tourist town, there are no busloads passing through eager to take snapshots of monuments. It is a real community in which people continue to live out rich traditions in a village whose foundations predate ancient Rome. It is not unusual to meet farmers on the streets returning from their crops, or families on their way to church to celebrate a wedding or a baptism. At the same time Monte Castello exists in the contemporary world. In the local bar one hears heated political discussions, speculations on the outcome of the World Cup, or opinions on the latest European fashions. It is commonplace to enjoy a morning cappuccino in the central piazza overlooking the magnificent Tiber Valley, standing in silence alongside a shopkeeper or retired craftsman whose life has been spent within these walls. It is also a place to join residents in a festive night of dancing and a bottle of excellent local wine.
Photos in gallery Copyright Linda Gravina Ridings
The experience of being in a place that seems to exist outside of time creates an atmosphere that is conducive to growth and learning. Our programs are intensive, but they are also fun. Above all, our multifaceted approach is designed to encourage exchange, to initiate dialogue, and to facilitate the sharing of ideas between individuals of different backgrounds, life experiences, and from a multitude of diverse cultures.
Our active studio program is our core, unifying our diverse activities under the umbrella of a common focus on the arts and culture of Italy. Thus, program participants with a wide range of interests come together: at traditional Italian meals, at exhibitions of artists’ work in our gallery, for presentations, poetry readings and concerts at the charming Teatro Concordia. Workshop and excursion participants mix with traditional students or faculty; visiting lecturers, and residents interact with the townspeople who themselves are a mix of farmers and shopkeepers, doctors and physicists, homemakers, retired admirals, musicians and engineers. The lively artistic and intellectual community generated in this way contributes to the richness of our programs, an environment in which one engages in stimulating conversation with artists and scholars as well as professionals from every field in every corner of our lovely village.
The art of Italy remains continually engaging from generation to generation. It deeply affects our senses, emotions, and thoughts. Perhaps this is why we think of Italian art as classic. We at the International Center for the Arts seek to engage that spirit in all we do. In this, we are inspired by the words of the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, who once wrote of reading the classics: "there is no use in reading classics out of a sense of duty or respect…we should read them only for love." Calvino went on to say that great artworks: “imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable" and "each rereading offers as much a sense of discovery." In a similar spirit we invite you to come to our program to experience the arts of Italy, to let them imprint themselves on your imagination, to quench your thirst for discovery – and to do it “…for love.”